Iteration of Ideals

“I got to thinking ’bout the history of human nature

While this instrumental, play

Then I realized something that made me wonder if revolution was really ever the way”

— J. Cole, High for Hours

There are many factors that make this world turn in the way it does. Friendly factors, foreign factors, factors we can’t even comprehend due to the constrictions of science and society.

In a world where information is everywhere, knowledge and understanding seem to be in short supply. With a warming world and warring economies our planet can seem a little on the heavy side as of late and opinions about all of these stories fly around the internet like starlings around Rome. So what can we do?

Here at The Clueless Conscience, we try to draw on the vast amount of knowledge we have at our fingertips today and start discussion about subjects we think are interesting or that we think deserve further discussion in society. This ranges from a closer look at historical happenings to reviews of music and art, all the way through to current affairs and policy. While not free from opinion, we try our best to find all the relevant details and keep the language light so that you can make up your own mind about the subject and give us and the community your feedback. The focus is on expanding understanding in order to think more critically about the world we live in.

In the not-too-distant past a broad knowledge of many subjects was something people traveled continents for. The great minds of ancient Greece traveled to Africa and the land of Kemet (now Egypt) to learn all things about the world they inhabited, and yet now it seems a thirst for knowledge has been replaced by a hunger for the trappings of life.

We are about free and open discussion. First and foremost. Keep Learning.

Oscar Jerome

The spacey guitars and spatial drums of Oscar Jerome have truly grown in the London music scene, becoming an ever present part of its endemic environment. Hailing from Norwich and studying Jazz at the Trinity Laban Conservatoire, Jerome has been playing in bands since he was 14 and has now released three full length albums alongside two EPs and numerous singles.

All are filled with a clever mix of west-african inspired rhythms, echoey guitars that sparkle across your ears and poignant vocals. The result is a captivating listening experience which you can easily lose yourself in.

As part of the London scene he is surrounded by the likes of Ezra Collective, Sons of Kemet and he also has been playing in KOKOROKO; his guitar ringing out on their hit Abusey Junction. His guitar playing has even earned him a spot playing with the likes of Kamasi Washington on his UK tour.

Oscar Jerome’s appreciation for a vast array of styles can clearly be heard in his music. Jerome cites the guitar virtuosity of Wes Montgomery and George Benson and the melancholic beauty of John Martyn as heavy influences on his composition and his own style of playing. In his lyrics, there are nuances of the happy-yet-melancholic storytelling of Gil Scott-Heron as well as the sadness of John Martyn. Yet despite this palette of melancholy his messages are often ones that Zack de la Rocha of Rage Against The Machine would be proud of. The lyrics of Where Are Your Branches and Give Back What U Stole From Me outline his thoughts on the inequality and late-stage capitalist society that is taking root in Britain more firmly than ever before.

Yet unlike contemporaries such as Ezra Collective or the bombastic brass of Sons of Kemet and The Comet Is Coming, the anti-establishmentarianism of his messages often takes some time to be heard amongst the kaleidoscope of rhythm and colour prevalent in his music. One could be forgiven for thinking that his only pursuit in his musical journey is one of creating soundscapes to become lost in, however his ideas are deeply rooted in his music and are there for all to hear. The repeated refrain “We should stand up and say no” in Give Back What U Stole From Me is reminiscent of De La Roche’s anger-fueled “F*ck you I won’t do what you tell me” , but Jerome’s lyrics manage to come across as rhythmic and melodic in place of De La Roche’s spitting anger and yet carry some of the same weight. One exception is 2022’s cover of Grant Green’s jazz classic (Why You So) Green With Envy. Produced with Rapper Oscar #Worldpeace, the mosquito-like guitar of Jerome and heavy stepper kick drum bring an entirely new approach to Green’s song and it is a disturbing yet melodic re-imagining, perfect for framing the message it conveys.

Maybe this is why Oscar Jerome believes that his live shows are where his true form lies. After the first two EPs Jerome decided to release Live in Amsterdam as his first full album. “I started to realise that the versions we play live can be very different” he says in an interview with guitar.com, with the energy of the crowd fueling the improvisation and inspiring changes in the moment. “I felt it was important for people to hear this on record before we put out another studio project”, he says. 

Despite these feelings and the energy of his live shows, the sounds laid down in his recordings still manage to capture something inherently his. Whether captured in a studio or from a microphone in shoe, like his single Gravitate – a collaboration with friend and Ezra Collective’s own Joe Armon-Jones – Oscar Jerome manages to create music that always gets your toes tapping and your head bopping while spinning your head. No doubt his time creating music within the Afrocentrism of London’s current music scene, including his time playing with KOKOROKO, has added to his understanding and use of west-African-style rhythms. He himself says that “focusing on drums as a way to give the song its initial identity” is a key part of his song-writing and he does this spectacularly, making him stand out from other artists in similar veins such as fellow Trinity Laban alumni Tom Misch.

Adding to the hypnotizing rhythms of Oscar Jerome’s music are layers of instrumentation. On 2018’s Where Your Branches (Where Is Your Fruit) the echoing twangs of the guitar add to the sense of space within the song while the bird-like percussive hits transport you into that space; into the forest, looking up at those branches, searching for that fruit.

His ability to be inspired by different genres and places keeps his releases refreshing while retaining his own sound. Given his extensive touring I am excited to see what he brings about in the future, with his own releases as well as his involvement in the projects of others.

The Murky Truth of Britain’s Green Energy

In August this year while serving as Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the now Chancellor of the Exchequer Kwarsi Karteng made a statement that importing wood pellets from North America to burn here in the UK as biofuel “doesn’t make any sense” and is “unsustainable”. 

Far from the UK government seeing the light on the environmental impacts of the biofuel industry coupled with recent changes to environmental protections – branded an “attack on nature” and encouraging “indiscriminate development” – are these comments indicative of another strategy instead?

The British Biofuel Question

Scientists have long disputed the claims that burning biomass for fuel (ie wood) is green, sustainable or renewable. On top of the large-scale removal of trees and the decrease in our plants ability to capture CO2 that go with this, evidence suggests that due to the higher density of material needed compared to coal, burning biomass actually emits more CO2 into our atmosphere per KwH than fossil fuel power stations. Furthermore the source forests for these wood pellets have been questioned on their environmental impact and sustainability.

Despite the UK Government’s misleading data that shows that most of its biofuel comes from UK feedstock through green processes such as the enzyme-facilitated fermentation of barley or wheat, the UK burns around 8 million tonnes of wood each year. Wood is the main source for biomass fuel in the UK, producing 12% of the UKs total energy supply.

Most of this energy production is done by one power station, Drax, in North Yorkshire. 

Graph showing the energy production of Europe, of which the UK’s Drax power station plays a large part.
1 Exajoule = 277 billion KwH
Emissions of CO2 from US biomass energy consumption compared to other renewable energy sources.

In 2020 CO2 emissions from coal power stations and steel production amounted to 10Mt. Renewable energy power plants are not required by the government to publish their emissions but it has been estimated that Drax alone emits 13.3Mt each year (estimate by independent think tank Ember; other estimates by Chatham House put emissions at 13-16Mt), which along with the emissions from the other biomass fueled power stations in the UK make emissions from wood burning the second greatest contributor to climate change after fossil fuels. 

So how can these power stations claim to be carbon neutral and sustainable when they are producing more emissions than “dirty” fossil fuels? It comes down to carbon capture; or aiming for “net zero”, which can be big business for power companies. Since converting four of its six units from burning coal in 2019 – the same year Kwarteng became Secretary for Business & Energy – Drax has received £2.5bn in government subsidies, a large portion of the £5.6bn in subsidies that the biomass industry has received in recent years, supplied by UK energy bill payers. 

The Game of Netting Zero

A number of things combine to make net zero a reality for an industry producing more CO2 than coal power stations. At one end, under assumptions made by the European Renewable Energy Standard and further entrenched by the 1992 Kyoto Protocol, end-users of harvested wood such as Drax only need to account for a small amount of the Carbon released through the process of turning wood into fuel (e.g harvesting and transport), not the actual burning of the fuel itself.

At the supply end, again under the Kyoto Protocol, forest-owners are responsible for the CO2 released through clearance of their forests, not the end-user. For Drax, supplied largely by North American forests, late-game lobbying efforts by the fossil fuel industry meant that the US effectively didn’t sign the Kyoto agreement and is under no obligation to record these emissions figures and Canada, another source of biomass for the UK, withdrew from the agreement in 2012 instead prioritising oil sand development in the Alberta region.

Furthermore, the main assumption made by the pellet industry and summarised best by Benedict McAleenan, spokesperson of British trade group Biomass UK, is that the wood created from clear-cutting and forest clearance would have spent time decaying on the forest floor, taking an age to be decomposed and “slowing the growth of the forest” in the process. Growth which would ultimately capture carbon from the atmosphere.  

However this neglects the fact that carbon from this decomposition process would stay in the ground, having not been combusted and released into the atmosphere. It also neglects studies which have shown that the payback time for this carbon debt to be reabsorbed ranges wildly, “ from 44–104 years after clearcut” and is massively dependent on the type of forest. For example primary forest, classed as ancient forest never used for logging, holds much more carbon than can be replaced by new growth.

This way of thinking about carbon capture is described by scientist Bill MooMaw, an author or a Nobel Peace Prize-winning Climate report as well as many IPCC reports as “tragically shortsighted” and says this strategy is tantamount to cooking the books on environmental impact. “If we did financial accounting like that in our daily lives,” he said, “we’d all be in prison.” 

Moomaw further highlights this saying “If we let some of our forests grow, we could remove an additional 10 to 20 percent of what we emit every year… Instead, we’re paying subsidies to have people cut them down, burning them in place of coal, and counting it as zero carbon.”

“If we did financial accounting like that in our daily lives,

we’d all be in prison.” 

The Brazil Problem

Drax eats up nearly a quarter of the global supply of wood pellets with two-thirds of that being supplied by the US and Canada. A large part of the other third comes from forests in Brazil. 

Brazil itself is a huge consumer of biofuels, having one of the highest percentages of renewable energy in the world at 47%. Whilst being a leading supplier of biomass, the greatest portion of its domestic renewable energy consumption comes from sugarcane, which comes with its own set of environmental issues. The clearance of forest for sugarcane plantations is in itself negative for the environment, but the practice of burning sugarcane before harvest to remove excess vegetation releases huge amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. Carbon which doesn’t have to be accounted for by the end-users of the fuel. 

Brazil is counted as an Annex B party to the Kyoto Protocol and since 1997 has consistently pledged to lower its emissions by 2050 through the development of Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) Projects. However under the Bolsonaro regime these pledges and promises have come under scrutiny for updates to its proposals to the UN; proposals worth $138bn in subsidies. With questions raised about collusion between the US and Bolsonaro, a leader who arguably favours US and neoliberalism interests, it raises concerns about where Brazil’s allegiances lie when it comes to shareholders or the environment.

Given Drax’s dealings with North America in the chase for net zero, it is not a reach to say that similar deals could have been made with Brazil. Benefiting Drax while on paper still allowing Brazil to meet their pledges through CDM projects.

The working forests that Drax uses in Brazil are, in its own words, “responsibly sourced”, “sustainable” and “properly managed”. While claiming on the outside that it only uses wood that would otherwise be wasted, Drax’s own reports state that its pellets are made from low-grade roundwood, which is not classed as waste or residue wood. 

What it neglects to say is that in the case of its Brazil sources, it involves the use of fast growing but highly invasive species in areas where endemic environments are already threatened. Source forests in Brazil use Black Wattle (Acacia mearnsii) which has been listed as one of the world’s 100 Worst Invaders by the ISSG and is classed as a “noxious weed”. Native to South eastern Australia it is already a huge problem in multiple countries across Africa and Europe where it has been introduced for similar purposes. 

User to Abuser

While Kwarsi Kwarteng’s statement about the questionable sustainability of importing wood pellets could have been a statement about its environmental feasibility, it is more about the sustainability of the UK importing its fuel. 

After the august statements by Kwarteng, a government spokesperson said: “[Kwarteng] has always been clear biomass has a key role to play in boosting Britain’s energy security…The UK government only supports biomass which complies with our strict sustainability criteria and will shortly publish our biomass strategy, which will further detail our position on its future use”; implying Kwarteng indeed has no plan to heed his ministers remarks about the “ludicrous” nature of biomass as a carbon neutral strategy and instead press on with a domestic strategy for producing pellets. 

Drax is already active in the sale of pellets to third parties and has made steps to further its position through its subsidiary Pinnacle Renewable Energy. Recently Drax announced on its website that its subsidiary “has agreed to acquire the pellet sales contract book of Pacific BioEnergy Corporation… adding 2.8 million tonnes of orders for sustainable biomass supply to high-quality counterparties in Japan and Europe”, and aims to double its total exports between 2022 and 2030. A self professed “major producer, supplier and user of biomass, active in all areas of the supply chain “, Drax will likely be at the top of the Conservative governments list to facilitate a domestic strategy of producing and transporting pellets.

Kwarteng’s successor as Secretary of State for Business, Energy and International Trade, Jacob Rees Mogg’s recent announcements have suggested that the cost of the government’s energy support package, available to companies like Drax as well as the public, would be in the tens of billions of pounds. This package will be funded by borrowing and will ultimately be footed by the public, on top of already increasing energy bills. This comes alongside Kwasi Kwarteng’s “mini-budget” which promises cuts to taxes on the wealthy and the removal of some corporate tax altogether.

The UK’s Conservative government still believes in the idea of “trickle down economics”, however a large portion of this money packet will be finding its way into the pockets of companies like Drax plc, who have already been given billions in public funding, including $1.2bn a year in government subsidies since 2019, a deal that is proposed to continue until 2027 despite Drax being kicked from the Green Energy Index for its role in the cutting of primary forests in Canada BC among other damaging activities. 

And not all of these subsidies from this “support package” will be for Drax’s role as a green energy provider. While Will Gardener, Drax CEO, announced recently that “at the request of the UK Government, Drax has agreed to delay the planned closure of its two coal-fired units and help bolster the UK’s energy security this winter.” 

Furthermore “under the terms of the agreement, Drax will be paid a fee for the service and compensated for costs incurred, including coal costs, in connection with the operation of the coal units in accordance with the agreement.”

The ability to “cook the books” of environmental damage using loopholes in the Kyoto protocol and similar agreements enable Drax to make a lot of money through government subsidies provided by the British public, as well as straight profit from the sale of their pellets. Being a private company, most of these profits will go to shareholding companies such as the infamous BlackRock (who hold a 7% stake in Drax and manage upwards of $10 Trillion) instead of being returned to British taxpayers. Kwarteng’s recent budget ensures that the public will get less in return while their tax money goes towards environmentally damaging practices in other countries through government borrowing and subsidies. The sourcing of these subsidies from increased energy bills over traditional increases in taxes also ensures a larger pool of public money is targeted.

Drax are increasingly positioned to be a major player in the supply of wood pellets to Asia and Europe instead of an energy provider. As the UK encourages other countries to “transition away from coal” towards biomass – despite the evidence suggesting it is more damaging to our environment – their stance suggests profit over environmental protectionism. Given recent announcements on industrial zoning and the pulling back of protections denounced as “an attack on nature” by various environmental groups such as the RSPB and Woodland Trust, how much can we trust the UK government to do what is right for us and our planet over the shareholders of private corporations?

The Awakening – The Ahmad Jamal Trio

Ahmad Jamal has been a leading jazz pianist for some time, although his commercial success before the release of The Awakening in 1970 wasn’t always taken seriously by critics. However the man with the “exquisite touch”, as Miles Davis once described him, showed all what he was truly capable of with this LP full of tension and release.

Jamal has an ability to conduct simple lines of melody into a kaleidoscope of suspense, which break suddenly into harmony like the first ray of sun around a mountaintop on a cold morning. Described as a “concept album for Jazz piano”, the trio pull you into comforting yet not always comfortable rhythms, as they move around within melodies and softly swerve around syncopations.

“A fine example of Jamal’s stately—and understated— elegance punctuated with doodles of whimsy”

Michael J. Agovino, writing for Pitchfork magazine

Doodles of whimsy indeed. There are parts to this album that I can and have just listened to on repeat. The first break into melody and swing in The Awakening, the switch up of harmony in Dolphin Dance. All of these parts of the songs bring me joy, but the true joy comes in taking 40 minutes and 34 seconds to sit and enjoy this album in its entirety.

I was deciding which artist or label to cover next in the Jams for the Journey series, when I realised I was listening to the first track from this album for maybe the fourth time that day. Before noon. It was at that point I decided to give Ahmad Jamal the attention of mine he deserves. As a fan of hip hop for a long time, the hooks of Nas’s The World is Yours or Common’s Resurrection were familiar to me and as a producer I knew where the samples were from. But what I didn’t appreciate the first time I went to listen to this album was the dearth of piano lines that were clamouring to be heard. Now just as much as the first time, the melodies that spring from tension still give me shivers.

The title track, The Awakening is a good example of this tension and release. Starting as a joyful simple 4 note melody, falling and rising, it has the feel of a lazy afternoon that started with a run for the bus. For me this afternoon turns into a night, with dancing and gaiety still the main themes that spring from the speakers. Suddenly an injection of tension comes from the firing fingers of Jamal, as the twinkling tiles fall up and then down putting me in mind of an altercation or the threat of a fight. However this is soon enveloped by the harmonious melodies that seal the song and put the melody to bed, a comforting place to be after such a long evening that started with a run for the bus.

Many other tracks on this album follow a similar pattern of order out of chaos, but in a way that is neither repetitive or unmelodic. Interestingly Ahmad Jamal and co chose to play largely jazz standards on this album, however the places they take them are entirely new, prompting many critics at the time to describe The Awakening as a concept album. But in reality it is Ahmad Jamal doing Ahmad Jamal best; writing wonderful compositional pieces that are topped off with his exquisite touch on the keys. I Love Music is another fine example of this, with the melody recognisable but stretched and filled out with notes that feel like they don’t quite belong, and yet you wouldn’t hear it the same way without them. Like cardamom or cloves in a curry, I’m not sure of the flavours by themselves but without them the overall taste falls somewhat flat. 

The bobbing basslines of Jamil Nasser also give great energy to the album, walking the tune to places while Jamal takes its hand and whirls it in another direction. The soft brushing of Frank Gant also helps to usher the sometimes encapsulatingly bombastic chords played by Jamal towards a more refined place. Patterns and Wave demonstrate this synchronicity between band members and the connection between these players is evident in the tightness and speed at which they change up the pace and style of their musical meanderings. All we can do is be taken by the hand and allow ourselves to be led through the landscape that is The Awakening

Amongst all of this, for me highlights include hearing the snippet in Dolphin Dance which was used for hip hop artist Common’s Resurrection, as well as the tiny twinkle that Chaos in the CBD uses for his hook in Luxury Motivation that almost passes you by. It’s no wonder that Pete Rock loves mining for samples in the mighty mountain of Ahmad Jamal’s back catalogue but also in this LP in particular. Every song on this album has been sampled by an artist or producer, paying homage to the greatness that is created and expressed through the fingers of Ahmad Jamal.

Sometimes it feels like there are more than the three instrumentalists playing, the depth of sound reached is so fulfilling. Through his compositions Ahmad Jamal and co manage to transport you away to a place that winds around itself and you as you listen, pulling you into the rise and fall of the harmonies and textures they create. Until, before you know it, 40 minutes and 34 seconds have passed and you’re listening to the sound of the record spinning its infinite crackle and wondering what just happened.

Listen to the full album, The Awakening here.

Walking the Snowdon Horseshoe: Crib Goch to Y Lliwedd

The national Park of Snowdonia lies in the northernmost corner of Wales. It separates the Isle of Anglesey, lying off the north west coast, from the rest of the British Isles with deep glacial valleys and the highest peaks in the United Kingdom outside of the Scottish Highlands. One such peak, distinctively pyramidal in appearance and surrounded by accompanying aretes, is that of Snowdon.

Named Yr Wyddfa in the Welsh language, meaning tomb or monument, it is believed to be the final resting place of a king-slaying ogre. This ogre would terrorize those crown-wearing kings who happened to stray into his lands, killing them and making cloaks out of their beards in mockery. The ogres reign of terror came to an end when the legendary King Arthur strode to the top of Snowdon’s peak, and smote down the might ogre, putting the ogre into its final resting place and freeing up the beautiful peak of Snowdon in the process.

Snowdon, to the left of center points upwards with it’s easily discernibly shape. Here viewed from Crib Goch, the route we followed is directly along the ridge that goes from center-left to right and back around to Snowdon, before dropping down the mountains left shoulder to the final ridge of the horseshoe.

After King Arthur’s mountaineering exploits, the next person we know to have climbed Snowdon, or at least written down his experience, is Thomas Pennant in 1781 when he wrote about summiting the peak in his book Tours. There are many routes one can take to get to the summit of Snowdon, and with over half a million visitors a year many clearly do. There is even a train that will chug you to the top a little faster than walking pace and for many it’s the most comfortable way to reach the highest point in English and Wales. For others that want a route with a little more leg stretching, there’s the miners path which guides you through the winding glacial valley carved out millenia ago by solid ice. Following the path used by old miners of the iron in these mountains (an inspiration for the dwarven mountains of middle-earth), the route finally reveals Snowdon, towering behind a glistening glacial lake called Glaslyn before raising you from the valley floor to the mountain’s summit. 

The path to Crib Goch. The pointed arete of Crib Goch looms over this approach, visible on the right hand side.

If you’re looking for a little more excitement from Snowdon however and want to avoid most of the crowds, there’s only one route for you. As you leave the Pen-y-pass car park from which most routes start, take the right hand path instead of the miners path and you’ll find yourself on the backside of the Snowdon Horseshoe. From here the path takes you up and over a shoulder in the horseshoe, from where you can rejoin the miners path. However glancing to your right reveals the foreboding cliffs and red ridge of Crib Goch which have loomed over your approach up to this point. 

Attempting to find a route up to Crib Goch can be challenging enough. Here a friend traverses a ledge above the valley floor.

Crib Goch – Red Ridge in Welsh, named for the iron in the rock – is an infamous path to Snowdon’s summit which has unfortunately seen its share of fatal accidents. The razor sharp sections of cliff that need to be traversed in order to make it from arete to arete coupled with the often wet and windy conditions on the mountain make this one of the most treacherous pieces of Grade 1 scrambling in Snowdonia. Before you reach the ridge however one must find a path to it, which can prove more difficult than you’d think if you’re unused to the route or scrambling in general. When I last took this route, we came across a young couple who were heading back down from this first section adamant that there should be a clearly marked path. However their battered trainers and ripped jeans told us that a lack of path may have saved them (and mountain rescue) an unnecessary and potentially unsavoury trip. It’s not uncommon to see walkers on Snowdon in what any seasoned walker would recognise as “unsuitable attire”, but Crib Goch needs to be taken seriously. 

As you clamber up the first cliff face to the beginning of the ridge, be sure to turn around and take in the views of the valleys below before they’re swallowed by clouds. The valley floor sweeps away below you, pulsing as the shifting light makes the landscape seem alive, the smattering of lakes twinkling back from their homes, squeezed in between the raised ridges of the Welsh landscape like a child asleep between sofa cushions. On a clear day this view seems to stretch all the way to England, on a bad day you should probably turn around at this point. 

The next section is the ridge itself. Curving ahead towards the aretes of Bwlch Coch and Crib y Ddysgl the jutting rocks form an angular face that one can either straddle or lean into. Usually, sticking to the left hand side is the smartest route. The wind storms in over the ridge left to right and can catch you off guard, sending your heart into your mouth as you catch sight of the steep scree slope that falls away on the right hand side of the ridge, all the way down to the road below. Once you have started along the ridge, the only way down is to either turn around or reach the other side. The angular slopes and loose rocks prohibit any descent until you reach Crib y Ddysgl so be sure to take care choosing your path, having to retrace your steps because of a mistaken route can be costly and time consuming in poor weather conditions, not to mention downright dangerous. The views across to Snowdon from here can be spectacular, with clouds often scraping the mountain’s peak. Wisps of grey and white appear like spray from a giant cresting wave as they drift over, momentarily shrouding those on its summit in characteristically Welsh weather. 

The view from Snowdon to the peak of Y Llewidd; the southern stretch of the horseshoe.

From here the climb to the summit is gradual and fairly uncomplicated.  On this stretch you’ll be joining most of the other walkers as they climb the path adjacent to the railway. You will also pass the ever-present queue of people looking to have their picture taken with the much less-present view from Snowden’s trig point. However if you continue past this trailing tail of trekkers and begin your descent down past the visitors centre you soon lose the crowds again. The horseshoe of Snowdon continues around to the equally foreboding cliffs that make up the route’s southern edge. Here the wind blows straight off of the cliffs into the valley below, the blue waters of Glaslyn (which literally means “blue”) often darkened by the clouds that rush in over the precipices of the surrounding peaks and ridges. A careful step is needed if you are venturing to the edge to take in the view and a careful eye is needed to keep between the cairns that make up the scrambling route towards the slopes of Y Lliwedd. It is all too easy to walk too far to your left and end up having to retrace your steps to prevent a very quick descent to the lake below, so make sure to leave yourself plenty of room and don’t just follow those in front, no matter how geared up they seem.  

The view back towards Y Llewidd as you descend to the miners path.

The descent itself is quite straightforward, if not for a few little tricky places. But if you’d have wanted a walk in the park you would have gone for a… well. Coming down from the horseshoe you join up with the miners path. This well paved route is littered with old remnants of the people who used to live and work up here in the mountains. The old pump house bears signs that remind people to not swim in the lakes. The glacial lakes of Snowdonia can be deeper than expected and much colder, the combination of depth and bodily shock being enough in some cases to cause dreadful accidents and sometimes deaths. In the summer months however they can be a welcome respite at the end of a long day of trekking. However, while it was August when we completed this route and took these photos, the lakes were not quite calling to us as much as a warm shower and a welcome fire by our tents. All in preparation for another day of walking in Snowdonia. 

Usury: Tool or Torment?

Lending and borrowing; they seem like a practice as old as the human race. As long as people have had things, other people have needed those things and borrowed them for a returning favour. Whether this is your neighbour’s drill or a £500 loan from your friend, you’re expected to give the £500 back at some point and you’ll probably let your neighbour borrow that tool he needs too. All of this makes for a homely neighbourhood, with goodwill and good intentions saturating the air. 

Now imagine that your neighbour had let you borrow his drill, but in return he not only wanted to use your lawn mower, but he wants you to gift him your set of screwdrivers too, just for the trouble of lending you his drill. I’m sure it wouldn’t be long before this kind of behaviour built up into a neighbourly dispute and before you know it, hedges are being lopped and gnome heads are rolling in the dead of night. 

It seems like quite an obvious social contract; don’t exploit those you live with or rely on. Even just a natural law of “don’t be exploitative (or an expletive)” could be applied. So why in our modern society are these kinds of deals, reliant on interest rates and loans, so commonplace? It’s how every economy works, it’s the main process of banks. The practice of lending with interest enabled European countries to win wars and rise to prominence.

Even the International Monetary Fund (IMF) runs on the exploitative principles of interest and debt, a concept encapsulated in the neoliberalist, economy-first ideas of many modern governments. Throw in the ease at which you can now hoard and hide money, thanks to digital banking and shell companies and you have yourself a problem. It affects our culture and our rational reasoning to the point where we are already having international disputes over drills, hedges and borders, although now we are talking about military drills, hedge funds and national borders. Whether heads begin rolling remains to be seen. 

All the way back in ancient Greece, the famous philosopher Aristotle was bad-mouthing a thing called usury; he called it “most unnatural” and “the most hated sort of [money-lending]”. And he wasn’t the only one. The great Italian writer Dante Alighieri described usurers in his Divine Comedy as “the last class of sinners that are punished in the burning sands” and placed them in the lowly seventh circle of his Hell. This money making practice was even banned by the Catholic Church “in the eyes of God” as well as “in canon”, on the grounds that it was exploitative. The Roman Emperor Cato the Elder even said that to demand interest of someone “is the same as killing a person”. 

But What Is Usury? 

A depiction of Aristotle

Over the centuries people have defined usury in many ways, but it can literally be defined as making money from money; for example a loan on which the return is greater than the principal investment – usually done through the charging of interest. In contrast, a non-usurious loan was where the amount loaned out and paid back were the same. Confusingly interest on a late repayment could be agreed upon, to dissuade a late return, but the loaner of the money was not expected to want this outcome (and certainly not manufacture circumstances that would result in late repayment and therefore any accumulated interest). If you charged interest with the sole aim of actually collecting on this interest then the loan was deemed usurious. 

This loose definition is why usurious loans were often a scourge of the poor, as they found themselves in situations where they could not pay back the initial sum by the due date despite their best intentions, and therefore they were at the mercy of any interest rates. As for the loaners, they were often already flush with cash, money-lending being a business one can only indulge in if one has funds to begin with. Therefore it became increasingly common for merchants and their progeny as inheritors of the family fortunes, to invest and loan. With the rise of venture capitalism in the late middle ages (and the resultant rise in for-profit companies and imperialism), usurious contracts soon became the accepted norm and before long central banks had been created and whole nations suddenly found themselves with mounting debts and interest rates.

National debt was non-existent before the creation of the Bank of England.

When it was created in 1694, to help fund wars against Louis XIV, the national debt was £1million.

By the time of Louis XIV’s death in 1715 it had risen to £50million.

By the time of the Seven Years War in 1756, it was nearly three times this at £140million.

The American Revolution twenty years later added yet another £100 million to an already gargantuan growth spurt, taking Britain’s National Debt to 222% of its gross domestic production.

The lending and collection of usurious loans require no labour or effort on the part of the lender, with profit almost always coming at the expense of others. 

Because of its exploitative nature, money gained through usury was seen as an immorally acquired fortune by religion, society and nature until around the 1700’s when definitions of usury began to be manipulated and twisted. The laws around usury have historically allowed for quite large grey areas, which have long been exploited in order to transfer wealth from one person or group to another. 

Definitions and whether loans were acceptable was largely at the judgment of a community or court, and so, as merchants became more powerful and trading companies held more economic sway, the definition of usury was changed to allow more profiteering by those with money to lend. The creation and implementation of institutions like the Bank of England that control this lending and borrowing helped streamline the process, while making the whole exercise seem like a natural necessity. However in order for this to happen, public opinion needed to be changed. How else do you go from usury being akin to killing someone, to its acceptance as an integral part of society? 

The Enlightenment of Entitlement

Portrait of René Descartes.

Ironically, the enlightening ideas that led to individualism and the humanist revolutions of the late middle ages may have been the start of the slippery slope towards acceptance of usury’s exploitative nature. A rise in the importance of the individual, thanks to Martin Luther’s translation of the bible and thinkers (therefore they were) such as René Descartes, meant that the power of the church was declining and so were it’s associated power structures. In its place rose individuals, with money and power, who proceeded to build institutions that benefited “man” rather than “men”. The writers Rousseau and Hobbes highlight these cultural changes, from “men” to “man” in their writings, promoting the idea of the self as well as a commonwealth of individuals to protect these individual interests respectively.

In the case of Thomas Hobbes, his book Leviathan developed this theme and became the main argument for the creation of Britain’s parliament. A parliament that went on to behead its king (for the first time in British history), importing in his place a Dutch king more sympathetic to the economic hunger of the English merchants. The resultant economic practices and institutions are still commanding the economy today. 

An Eyewitness Representation Of The Execution Of King Charles I In 1649, Oil On Canvas Detail

As Western thinkers looked through history to find a way to enliven usury’s public image, they came across an idea that is unfortunately as antiquated as usury itself; Antisemitism. Through the anals of history, the Jewish people have had a well documented time being excluded, exploited and exterminated. Like many refugees, they often immigrated with degrees and professions, but like so many refugees, ended up having to take menial jobs in their adopted homelands. Many became competent traders, so much so that others were often intimidated by the competition and Jewish merchants found themselves pushed out of reputable professions through propaganda and the passing of discriminatory laws. Heavy penalties for breaking these laws and the risk of sparking another murderous pogrom meant that Jewish people were often pushed into shadier methods of making money. One such method was money-lending. The Jewish people have always been easy prey for historians looking for a scapegoat and it was no different with British writers looking to spin public opinion on usury towards the end of the 1700’s.

The Path To Acceptance

First it was put forward that Jews were going against their own teachings of the Talmud by dealing usurious loans. Then, that the “general and violent” nature of these money-lenders left the “ignorant” and less intelligent “clergies of ancient churches” to deem usury a sin. Encapsulated in their own “age of darkness and superstition”, the impression put forward by writers like J.B.C. Murray, was that the masses and their advancements in trade stagnated. According to scholars of the time, it is only in the light of modern European “excellence” and commerce that we can now see usury’s true value. 

The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare offers a window into the stigma surrounding European Jews at the time of Usury’s infamy.

Not content with using just one of Europe’s favorite crutches to back their argument, writers would often hark back to Ancient Greece, the primordial soup of democracy from which Europe rose to prominence. Aristotle, remember, seemed quite certain in his negative views on usury however, in Murray’s argument, he manages to paraphrase Aristotle in such a way that Aristotle’s vitriol for usury is masked. It instead comes across as a mild comment on usury, making no mention of the unnaturalness attributed to the practice by the great Greek thinker. Where negative Greek and Roman sentiments on usury are quoted, they are often left in Latin or Greek. If they are translated, the language is much watered down or surrounded by vague language. By relating the acceptance of usury to Ancient Greece and Rome, writers such as Murray and Gerhard pander to the Anglo-Saxon need for validation from the ancient, perceivedly white world. 

After the ancient world’s acceptance of usury was manipulated into being, acceptance by the church was next. The 14th century scholar Jean Charlier de Gerson was the next target for writers on usury. Described as “the most eminent and devine of his day” by Murray, he apparently spoke “very fully upon the theme of usury”. According to modern scholar Johan Gerhard, writing in 2019, Gerson spoke with “eloquence, moderation & fairness” on the matter and pushed for its acceptance in trade and society. Throughout both papers, Gerson is a staunch advocate for the installation of interest rates, citing “the vulgar”as well as “the scholars” as reasons for usury’s misunderstood nature. 

In reality Gerson never spoke so fully on the subject of usury that it is ever mentioned in any biographies. In fact all references to Gerson and usury that I found in my research was exclusively limited to pro-usury papers like Murray’s and Gerhard’s. Gerson was better known as being the first western thinker to develop the contemporary idea of natural rights. This did include thoughts on interest and loans, but he advocated the recognition of “intention” in money lending. Gerson’s idea harks back to ideas of “unnatural” and “natural” exchanges, as he was more interested in the morality of a loan and how any interest would affect the borrower. If the intent of the loan is fraudulent – or in other words – if the loaner intends to collect on the interest rather than just the amount lent the the loan should be deemed usurious; as it would be unnatural in the eyes of natural morality and god.

Far from being a friend to commerce, it is said by more reputable scholars of Gerson that he had “moved well beyond the earlier medieval dislike for merchants”, as in his view, it was “impossible to avoid sin” while in the business of trade. Instead he believed that trade was established for the “common advantage of both parties”. This sentiment was backed by laws of the time restricting usurious contracts and Gerson was in favor of this status quo, speaking for leniency rather than reform on the matter. 

Unfortunately for history, Gersons ideas were often extrapolated into revolutionary sentiments. His thoughts on natural law were used to justify the rights of religion, the state, and the individual. From The Rights of Man which preceded the American Revolution (which was itself sparked by the British crown pushing usurious contracts onto its American colonies) to Wealth of Nations, Gersons ideas were increasingly turned towards any scholarly argument of the time. His name was synonymous with the “natural order” of things, and so any concepts attributed or linked to him became socially and morally accepted by western society through osmosis.

As the western world sought to divide up those areas of the map deemed “uncivilized”, ideas like Gerson’s were increasingly adapted in order to justify rampant colonialism, and the racist beliefs that went with it.

One key idea that resurfaced at the time of colonialism was that of two 15th century theologians; Bernadine & Antoninus. They posited that interest, so far only due on late repayments, should begin to accrue from the very beginning of the loan. In other words, the repayment would always be greater than the loan. The amount of interest one could add was subject to the amount of risk on the loan, with higher risk allowing a higher interest rate. Fortunately this was an opinion held by the minority at the time, however you may recognise it as the way interest is implemented in our modern society. The thinking behind this was that a lender should be reimbursed for the profits which they could have made, had they kept the loaned money in their business. This essentially enabled and encouraged even the most financially unstable merchants to lend sums of money as they were always guaranteed a profit on it’s return. The lender effectively shared none of the risk and actually could profit from a riskier loan as the chances of losing their money was greater. This approach encouraged lenders to boost the perceived risk of a loan, as the higher the risk, the higher the interest they could charge. 

While not embraced in their time, the ideas of Bernadine & Antoninus were fully embraced by the new economic state of the British ushered in after the beheading of Charles I and the Glorious Revolution of 1688. The ability for any merchant to lend and gather a fortune at the expense of others, with high levels of interests hidden as “risk fees” started the ball of unfettered capitalism rolling towards imperialism, and it wasn’t long before Britain was using it’s financial might to control the globe. The argument for Britain’s rise to power in the 1700’s is usually attributed to naval power and democracy, but maybe it has more to do with them turning their backs on the moral values laid down  by history.

The Glorious Revolution of 1688 saw the Dutch Stadtholder, William of Orange made King of England. The only condition was that he had to sign a Bill of Rights that gave economic power to Parliament at a time when England’s engine of imperialism was just kicking into gear. Paving the way for our modern concept of capitalism.

With the subsequent rise in trades like slavery and the creation of banks to guard these fortunes, it is not hard to see how a small change to societal views on usury snowballed into a modern society that has no qualms sending bailiffs after pensioners and taking away the homes of those in need. After all, repossessions are examples of a bank’s rights coming before those of the individual.

What would Gerson have to say about such things? 

Spinning The Web

Throughout Britain’s rise to power, the ceiling on the levels of acceptable interest was increasingly skirted by inventing risk, fictitiously increasing the sum of the initial loan, issuing bonds below par, playing with exchange rates and adding profit sharing elements. This appreciation for grey areas is something that has catapulted and secured Britain (or at least the City of London) into a position of economic dominance that it still holds on to.

Throughout Britain’s rise to power, the ceiling on the levels of acceptable interest was increasingly skirted by inventing risk, fictitiously increasing the sum of the initial loan, issuing bonds below par, playing with exchange rates and adding profit sharing elements. This appreciation for grey areas is something that has catapulted and secured Britain (or at least the City of London) into a position of economic dominance that it still holds on to.

While stigma against the accumulation of wealth and the addition of interest likely existed long before Aristotle wrote it down into western scripture, nowadays it’s the modus operandi of our financial systems. It’s how sovereign countries are able to trade with each other and the idea of interest, beginning at the start of a loan, is accepted as a fact of life. The IMF and World Bank, tasked with bringing nations into the free market and the modern trading world, does so through usurious loans that developing countries can often only dream of paying back. Economic Historian Dr Michael Hudson refers to the euphemism of “development”. In this context calling it instead a forced dependency on Western exports and finance (a cursory google of the chemical and agricultural company Monsanto’s actions in developing countries such as India show many instances of this systematic abuse).

The rules set by the IMF, that countries must follow, can often damage and devalue the nations assets and industries. This is achieved by first imposing strict regulations which must be followed in order to receive the loan. In order to adhere to these regulations the country often accrues more debt. This is on top of the interest on the loan from the IMF. Finally the country is then encouraged to open up to the private sector, whereby all the assets and money are transferred to a handful of owners through the acquisition of debt and industry.

While not strictly the IMF, similar tactics were clearly demonstrated by the US in their relations with Russia at the end of the Cold War. Gorbachev finally agreed to open up Russia to western markets in return for peace. The result of this decision was an exorbitant, almost biblical rise in national debt. Rising from $0 to tens of millions in a matter of years under Boris Yeltsin and the transfer of all of Russia’s wealth to a handful of oligarchs.

The National Debt of Russia, from Gorbachev’s talks with Dick Cheney and George Bush in 1971 when markets in Russia were opened up to 2011.

Unsurprisingly, for developing countries with little to no other choice, the rules and regulations imposed by the IMF only ever seem to exacerbate problems. The rules increase the amount of money leaving the country in flight-capital while bleeding the country’s resources dry. A case study into any western nations activities in any African, South American or Asian nation (e.g. French influence in Mali, the British in India, US operations in Latin America) turns up instances of foreign intervention, flight capital, and a sinking sovereign ship left to the overwhelming tides of the free market – all while still in massive debt to the IMF despite the removal and sale of its resources. If you could point me towards a developing country who’s people are healthier as a result of help from the IMF, not just it’s economy, I would be very interested to read that case study.

How we came to accept this state of affairs is a road littered with manipulation and malpractice. As seen with Gerson and Aristotle, even those seeking to create a fairer world with their words can posthumously have them twisted into supporting an argument that would have the original authors spinning in their graves. Flying in the face of morality, our current concept of capitalism towers tall over everything else.

This seems to include morality and natural law.

Businesses have more rights than the people they apparently serve and corporations create the laws through excessive and expensive lobbying of governments. Governments that can’t or won’t be lobbied are often overthrown and interest accrued from the first handshake is the norm in business, unfortunately becoming the norm for all.

This doesn’t even touch on how this usurious system of interest and borrowing has developed into the creation of public and national debt, which themselves have become tradable commodities.

All of this can be summed up as profit at the expense of others, which to those “vulgar” and “ignorant” masses of earlier times, was not an acceptable state of affairs. If ignorance is bliss by way of economic stability, I’ll take it over student debt and credit cards.

A colourised version of the cover of Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes.

A Love I Can’t Explain – dBridge

Hailing from Manchester, the ever ethereal and industriously intuitive dBridge always manages to capture a mood with his music and this offering from 2018 is no different. Seamlessly bringing together the sounds of soothing synths and industrial techno across a range of genres, from drum and bass to the avant-garde, dBridge adds yet another feather to the Manchester electronic music scene’s already garlanded headdress.

Even with the likes of the great and forever missed Marcus Intalex doing similar audio alchemy dBridge has always managed to set himself apart from the crowd, switching styles, speeds and sensations to make a rich and deep album for us to get lost in.

A Love I Can’t Explain is described as dBridge “making music for himself”. As his first album in ten years he explained his new freedom in creation as he finds himself at a new period of life; one containing marriage and fatherhood. Maybe this then can be seen as the reason for some of the darker apparitions on ALICE (I was unable to find out if this was a reference to his new child, but one could think so). The first half of the album is dominated by lumbering drums that hide and secret the songs like vines in a rainforest. Primitive and tribal, the low rumblings and synth lines linger, almost uncomfortably but they are just energetic enough to move you along. This is not a criticism of the songs themselves, rather a testimony to the atmosphere dBridge manages to gather into his creations; as if the songs have such gravity that they have drawn in this atmosphere all by themselves. 

With the first tune on the album, dBridge sets us up for the ensuing journey. The mystical, floating line of Gen 19 quickly transforms into a grumbling head-bobber as the distinctive percussive elements of the Mancunian producer come into play (if you like this check out his Dead Peak release). It puts me in mind of a techno interpretation of birth, sort of like a minimalistic Intro to Biggie’s Ready To Die.

The creepily unsettling Broadcast Pain that follows is clearly a comment on the effects of social media upon the masses and the mind. With a backbone of chugging tentativeness, fleshed out with a ghostly ambience and topped off with audio from a conversation about the rise of social media, it all matches perfectly to give what I would (un)happily describe as an accurate audio interpretation of George Orwell’s 1984.

As the album progresses, the sunlight of synths begins to dapple onto some songs bringing warmth and harmony. The ever-pounding-forward Monitored Meanings gives us our first hint of this warmth and leads into the atmospheric They Loved featuring the vocals of Poison Arrow. The percussive producing style of dBridge really comes into play at this part of the album. His love of hardware shines through as he creates captivating rhythms from equipment and pedals that are so interconnected through cables and wires, they practically form an ecosystem in his studio. 

But with the noise of a baby being born, the final theme of the album comes in. The synths take over and the melodies sweep in under the tribalism to carry you away to yet another place within this great album. This is no better demonstrated than with the gorgeous Wiz Zijn (meaning We Are in Dutch). I don’t really know what to say about this song, other than it always manages to pull an emotion out of me no matter what. As UK producer Sam Binga once said, “every time this comes on in the car I have to pull over”. The constant treading of the beat (I think a conscious theme through the album), the soaring synth line, the harmony between the soft featherings of the low end and the main melodies.

It all comes together to make an undeniably emotional piece of electronic music, which sums up dBridge to me as a producer. His ability to squeeze emotion out of electronic equipment has always impressed me. Sure, Carlos Santana and his guitar could create enough emotion from just one note to send a whole bus full of grandmothers wailing in lamentation, but to produce a landscape of texture the way dBridge does with a computer takes a lot of skill and sculpting… as someone who likes to say he dabbles with producing music, I have the utmost respect for the way dBridge can manipulate and construct his percussive lines, wrapping them in melody and padding it out with atmosphere. While this album may have signalled a change of life-view for dBridge, it shows that the producer is showing no signs of slowing down.

Listen to A Love I Can’t Explain here.

The Ruling of India – How External Forces Have Shaped Indian Agriculture

Given the recent protests in India over farming reforms implemented by Prime Minister Narenda Modi, I have decided to publish an essay I penned two years ago. It discusses how from the time of the British East India Company, business has led India by the stick without a carrot, with the situation only looking to get worse with proposed trade agreements on the horizon such as RCEP. Banking and flight capital have always been prevalent and the recent introduction of laws making it easier for Big Business to monopolise and abuse trade will worsen this.

I send my best wishes to the Sikh farmers opposing the introduction of these laws.

Control over India and her resources, under Britain and before that the Moghuls, has been much discussed and relatively well documented. However, much of this history is the subject of a cultural negligence as discussed by Edward Said in his book Orientalism and further expanded upon by Arvind Sharma in The Ruler’s Gaze. This systematic deconstruction of non-western cultures has become more of a focal point for current research as Britain’s imperialism dwindles, to be replaced by other controlling influences. To many, control over India did not end in 1947 after the withdrawal of the colonialists. Historians Aditya and Mridula Mukherjee talk about how “imperialist exploitation, and the consequent underdevelopment did not cease”, even after British rule officially ended in India. In their paper Imperialism and Growth of Indian Capitalism in the 20th Century, they examine how control of the former colony was held through more indirect means than land colonisation and governmental rule.

Instead “a greater and more blatant direct appropriation of surplus through currency manipulations, forced loans, large military expenditures and numerous other unilateral transfers” allows non-domestic entities to influence and benefit from India’s own industry, ultimately undermining India’s own sovereignty. In more recent times the appearance of multinational corporations and trade agreements such as RCEP (Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership – between South Asian and Pacific countries) are arguably just as damaging as the East India Company was before th British Rule. In this short essay I aim to present a historical timeline showing the progression from imperial rule to industrial exploitation, focussing mainly on India’s ever-important yet consistently neglected agricultural sector and how this has ultimately led to India’s situation today; one of social unrest and protest. 

The Beginnings of British Influence

To understand what has drawn settlers and colonists to India we must look back to the Indian Raj and Mughal empire. At the time of Mughal rule, India made up 25% of the world’s GDP. A large proportion of this was generated through textiles and agriculture, and colonists were keen to get a piece of this pie with French, Portuguese, Dutch and British settlers arriving on the India’s East coast in order to set up trading stations. The importance of trading routes through the Indies to China for spices and other valuable commodities for European powers also increased the need for settlement on India’s coasts throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Through a series of deals with local landowners and the defeat of the French (the British main rival for control of trade in India) in the Seven Years War, the East India Company established themselves as a greater ruler over India than their counterparts, even the Mughals. By the mid nineteenth century the East India Company  (EIC) controlled the majority of India and its exports, using taxes collected from the Indian populace to buy Indian goods, essentially forcing Indians to work, create, farm and pay for goods they do not even use themselves. These goods were usually then exported to Britain to be sold at a higher price for the benefit of the British merchants and empire. 

This seemingly unscrupulous use of ruling power led to the 1857 rebellion in which the Indian people rose up and asked for independence from the suffocating trade deals of the East India Company. Instead of sovereign freedom however, the British Empire decided India was not ready to rule itself and the British Raj took over from the East India Company. Under the sovereign rule of Britain, Indian resources were abused in a similar fashion to the EIC, although it was better hidden . In the words of Angus Maddison, “British imperialism was more pragmatic than that of other colonial powers [such as France, Portugal and the Netherlands]. It’s motivation was economic not evangelical”, and this is seen in the way the British Raj ruled India. While religion and conversion to christianity was certainly an agenda to some within the prevailing establishment, the achievement of a “monopolistic trading position” and a “regime of free trade” were the main goals of British rule in India, a point raised by Angus Maddison in his 1971 book Class structure and Economic Growth: India & Pakistan Since the Moghuls.

While other European nations were concentrating on trying to convert the indigenous peoples of their colonies to the teachings of God, Britain concentrated on locking down India’s resource value to The City of London, all while appearing to give India greater trading freedoms than under the EIC.

Rigging The Game

After the revolt of 1857, Indians were allowed to sell to other countries themselves, something unheard of under the EIC who took control over the sales of all exportable goods. Under the British Raj producers were allowed to export their own goods directly albeit for special Council Bills not rupees. These special Council Bills were needed by countries or merchants wanting to buy and import Indian goods and could only be obtained from The City of London for silver or gold. Once these bills were exchanged for goods, Indian merchants then cashed them in for rupees, collected during the taxing of the Indian populace. So the method of paying for Indian goods by the country’s own money was still in place, as it was during the time of the EIC, it had just been made more complex to hide its existence. A common occurrence in the practices of the City of London. This method of economic dominance allowed India to appear as a seemingly wealthy exporter of goods, even though almost all of the monetary value of these goods ended up in the hands of the British Government as flight capital, a sum recently calculated by renowned economist Utsa Patnaik as nearly $45 trillion; 17 times the annual GDP of Britain today [*At time of writing in 2018]. 

After 1947 and the withdrawal of Britain from Indian governance, private banks became increasingly prominent. As did their failures, with 361 banks failing between 1947 and 1955; a rate of 45 a year, leaving their then-uninsured investors out of pocket. The agricultural sector, despite being the lifeblood of India, was largely ignored in this post-independence period by investors. As a way to help revitalise the farming industry, the country’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru started the first  of India’s 5 year plans in 1951. Modelled closely on Stalin’s plans of 1928, these reforms aimed to increase growth and to make more efficient use of the large amount of land available to India. With a new plan introduced every 5 years, the first mostly dealt with problems associated with tenancy and cultivation, as large areas of fallow land were stuck under large holdings and not being cultivated. By the time his daughter, Indira Gandhi, was in power in the early 80’s, the focus was on maintaining food security. Despite the various land reforms a healthy agrarian sector was still far from realised, partly due to what Patnaik calls the “robber baron capitalism” that was “rampant” in India. Loans were directed away from agriculture, toward industry and business; the owners of which also held large stakes in the country’s banks.

The Road To Reform

This was recognised by Indira Gandhi when she took power and in her second term, she promised to nationalise the banks, giving a greater percentage of loans to India’s struggling agriculture sector. In 1969 Gandhi achieved this, nationalising the top 14 banks and handing control of 70% of the nation’s bank deposits to the Indian government as well as any operations available with that capital. Using this new power Gandhi increased the accessibility of the banks in rural areas, covering a huge proportion of the Indian population. Pre-nationalisation only 17.6% of bank branches were in rural areas, post-nationalisation this rose to 58%. This was a massive step toward aiding the struggling agriculture sector as access to advice and the capital for loans was more readily available, and this was reflected in the increased amount of loans (9.1%) given out to farmers in 1976-77. This did result in a bump in agriculture production, as this increase in loans allowed the Green Revolution to take place, with India becoming practically self-sufficient in the mid 70’s before drought unfortunately hit the country.  However “big industry and business continued to dominate the credit profiles of nationalised banks” leading some critics of Indira Gandhi’s policies to claim that the newly nationalised banks “failed to energise the ‘priority sectors’” like agriculture to the extent she had promised. Other critics decry her moves as beneficial at all to the poor whom she hoped to help, instead placing money and control into “the hands of rich peasants who produced mainly for the export market” and aided in the stockpiling of commodities such as food grain. While I think Indira Gandhi’s motives and actions were successful in handing some control back to the large rural population it cannot be ignored that agriculture, while improved, did not become healed in the time before Gandhi’s assassination. 

After Indira Gandhi’s assassination in 1984 India began to descend into economic recession as imports swelled and trade deficits grew on borrowed money. This borrowing  snowballed, eventually culminating in the economic crisis of 1991. This, in turn, led to India’s acceptance of a $500 million bailout from the IMF and WTO, on the condition that some laws were passed and policies put in place that pushed for “economic liberalisation”. These laws allowed deregulation of the markets, lower duties and taxes on Indian goods and a massive increase in foreign direct investment (FDI), allowing for more of a market economy. This very quickly increased the proportion of private companies with an influence over domestic services and business, including agriculture. By increasing the amount of FDI in the country in this way, it effectively undercut the reforms made by Indira Gandhi when she nationalised the country’s banks. While the banks and their deposits remained virtually state controlled and regulated, foreign influence was now and still is allowed to be directly injected into the Indian economy by the businesses themselves rather than through private banks, as was the case pre-nationalisation.

Another of Indira Gandhi’s reforms to fall from policy was the increased agricultural subsidies, which had been decreasing steadily since her assassination and dwindled further since the reforms of 1991. This has directly led to the situation seen in India today, where farmers are marching from across the country to New Delhi in order to protest increasing volatility in the country’s agricultural sector. One of the only agriculture-related statistics to see an increase in the past two decades is the rate of suicide among farmers. Caused by a mix of bad growing seasons, low or negligible subsidies and borrowing from unscrupulous lenders charging exorbitant amounts on loans. The latter being a situation caused by institutional credit agencies “not responding adequately to demand” as well as poor access.   

The Modern Raj

The emergence of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is casting a dark shadow on the future of Indian agriculture. First proposed at the turn of the millenium, member nations began negotiations in November 2012 in response to the United States  attempting to put together the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) two years before. While the TPP was ultimately dropped by the US in 2016, RCEP has undergone 24 rounds of negotiations, led by China and the US’s backing, with aims to increase trade links between many of the countries around the Pacific and Indo-Pacific. 

However a closer look at how it operates and its aims show a very different picture. Far from seeking to aid the growth of sovereign nations involved with RCEP, big business seems to be at the fore. Many of the clauses being discussed aid the privatisation of services as well as blocking any action by governments that protect domestic services or products. Almost all of the discussions take place without any input from the governments that will be affected and the actual content of the talks is a closely guarded secret. The only public knowledge of what goes on in these talks comes from regular online leaks. Some of these leaked documents contain draft clauses that are likely to be implemented, one of which is the “services chapter draft”. This clause proposes that foreign service supplies are given the same degree of access to land ownership as domestic suppliers, including the ability to own farmland, an already thinly spread commodity among indians. Such clauses could be modified with an exception for (eg.) farmland but this would be subject to negotiation and would have to be agreed to by all parties, something that is highly unlikely to happen; a view held by the many RCEP critics. Policies like those being put forward by RCEP in the words of economist Surupta Gupta “could seriously aggravate land grabbing” by big business, displacing domestic business and “sabotaging [the] agrarian reform processes [countries like India] have spent so long cultivating”. 

The view that India has nothing to gain from “opening itself up” is one shared by many prominent critics such as Biswajit Dhar, professor of economics and Jawaharlal Nehru University. The measures proposed by RCEP are “contradictory” to India’s “largely defensive posture” in regards to agriculture and manufacturing. Allowing more market access to countries such as China leaves many of India’s most vital sectors open to exploitation and export, giving the impression of a healthy market while actually seeing minimal returns in the form of GDP. As an example of the premiums RCEP is asking of its members, India Foreign Direct Investment Watch reports that RCEP mandates import duties for its members between 0 and 3%. India’s current duty on industrial goods is 10% on average and 32.5% on agricultural products. Couple a loss of income due to this decreased duty on exports with a foreign service sector within India that can outsource their suppliers and you will undoubtedly see a large loss in national GDP and economic stability, all while India appears to be a huge exporter of goods. Decreased economic stability could lead to further loans being needed from institutions such as the IMF or WTO just for purchase of basic imports as well as in order for services to run as India has in the past, and if any of the loans handed to countries such as Argentina, Ireland or Greece is anything to go by this will lead to a snowballing national debt that looks increasingly impossible to pay off. The Indian government already has to pay back debts to the WTO accrued by farmers, who are too poor to buy new seeds or farming equipment without loans, so an extra burden of debt on top of the current, already rising level, may cripple the country beyond repair, possibly leading to the “crisis of society” or “even a civilisational crisis” that prominent journalist Palagummi Sainath predicts.

These policies suggested by RCEP are already being slipped into Indian law as Narendra Modis ruling BJP government look to introduce more liberal agricultural trade policies. Supposedly to “bring about predictability and enable exports to more markets” with the aim of “doubling farmers income”, the proposed laws are very dangerous given some of the clauses given by RCEP such as the “Ratchet Clause”. The Ratchet Clause means that every time a government make a policy decision or passes a law that aids privatisation or liberalisation, no retroactive action can be taken by said government to undo this. It is now locked in and cannot be reset even to the levels originally agreed upon by RCEP. Any action taken by a government to rectify this could and will most likely end up in an investor-state dispute settlement. Even in cases where sovereign states win these settlements, the money at the disposal of big business means that the legal costs alone could cripple a developing nations economy. RCEP also states that any future concession to a trading partner under a bilateral treaty will also get extended to all RCEP members, known as Most Favoured Nation Forward.

Together these two clauses could cause many countries, not just India, to have to open up their domestic markets and privileges to foreign business, stifling domestic growth as the state puts money in to support these businesses, while seeing none of the profit for fear of being sued. One of the more recent policies Modi intends to move on will require India to keep up a certain level of agricultural exports to outside parties, even when domestic need is high. This policy is not just unsound and unfair to the populace that produce the grains being exported, it is also moving away from India’s historically preserving stance of curbing exports in order to keep domestic prices in check. While not yet in place, if actioned and passed, this is a law that liberalises the market and therefore could potentially not be undone under RCEP, even in cases of severe domestic need such as drought. If there were to be a drought, domestic food prices would soar as available grains were earmarked for export instead of domestic sales to the starving population, leading to famine in a country of over 1 billion people. 

Old Empire, New Clothes

In 2018 Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party proclaimed that India is now “self-sufficient”, as food-grain production had reached 270.11 million tonnes between 2016-2017, up from 217 million tonnes a decade before. At current estimate, there are 270 million starving people within India’s borders. Poor infrastructure and storage difficulties mean that a vast amount of produce doesn’t get to where it needs to be, instead rotting in huge piles on farmland. The Union Ministry of Agriculture predicted that India’s demand for food grains in 2017 would be 257.7 million tonnes, so if the BJP are correct with their estimates, India’s total production is at 106.8% of demand. Using the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) own leveling system, 80% to 120% production means a country is indeed “self-sufficient”. However with the estimate of production not taking into account the huge amount of wastage, the true percentage of available food grains could well fall nearer or  the 80% mark, below which lies “food deficit”. If India is nearing a shortage of food for its own people, are the passing of laws that allow for increased and prioritised export really helping the country? 

The “appropriation of surplus” in India by the British Raj is well documented, however it is not over. Economic measures taken in India have helped consolidate what used to be the Brits main source of income into that of the global corporations. The direction of loans post-independence has been toward industries that provide large profit margins and the opportunity for flight capital; something that the agricultural sector doesn’t provide in large quantities. Therefore it has been historically starved of investment, whilst still being expected to provide on a global scale. This has led to a large backlash by domestic industries, especially the agricultural sector. More recently the development of RCEP has shown that, with business interests coming before the well-being of sovereign nations, leading to the same undermining of domestic industry that was seen 150 years ago.

How to Start a Religion (Part 1)

The spread of ideas about our own moral obligation to ourselves and others crops up repeatedly throughout history. It tends to arise in times of disenfranchisement and when power is being consolidated beyond the control of the populace. In the 16th century one man started a movement by refusing to bend to the surrounding system. His words sharpened the minds of many and his refusal to pay taxes to a corrupt power structure saw these freethinkers martyred until the movement became a religion unto itself. While the religion still stands today, the founding principles set 400 years ago have changed from its initial philosophy somewhat. Looking back at the origins of these principles, could we learn from what they achieved?

At the end of the 15th century, religious dogma and governance was reaching new heights and powers. The heavy taxes and decades of austerity imposed on an increasingly penniless population had been pushing people towards the fringes of society until they dropped out or dropped dead. Questions began to arise about the power structures at play and the people at the top of the chain. With vast swathes of land paying dues to a centralised state and little of this money seemingly trickling down to the people, a few thinkers and writers were starting to turn the population against the systems that they found themselves embedded into.

Some of you may recognise this as the state of Europe around this time, with Erasmus and Martin Luther spreading the word of Humanism. The idea that human life could and should be valued above that of religious ideals empowered the members of the population of Europe to think of themselves as more than just tax payers in God’s eyes, stripping power from the Catholic church as it did so.

But where in one place religion withered, religion was born anew elsewhere as a similar spread and subsequent throwing off of societal shackles occurred. 

Before the British invasion-by-commerce of the 18th century and subsequent imperial rule in the 19th century that led to the partitioning of it’s most powerful states India was even greater in size than it is now. Both Bangladesh and Pakistan resided within its boundaries, with Pakistan and the north eastern states making up the Punjab, India’s breadbasket and most prosperous region. Due to the fertile soils of the Indus valley and its proximity to the Himalayan foothills it was both rich and beautiful. Both Muslims and Hindus resided side by side with other ethnic minorities creating a diverse patchwork of culture and beliefs. 

However, the higher rungs of a rich societal tapestry was not immune to corruption any more than the arguably more monotheistic society of Europe and it was this that was to light the spark of a new religion in the region.

Backhanders and heavy taxation in the northern provinces of India were as rife as they were in Rome and high agricultural taxes saw Punjabi farmers becoming increasingly disenfranchised with local governance. By this period of the early 16th century, many of these landowning farmers in the Indus valley were made up of an ethnic group called Jats. Historically a nomadic people from central Asia, Jats may well be descended from the Indo-Aryans of Persia and ancient Scythia and it’s thought that they are the ancestors of modern gypsies. Eventually some migrated into the fertile Indus Valley in search of a place to settle. Their nomadic lifestyles could also be interpreted as a search for identity between the many ingrained cultures of the region, with both Muslim and Hindu societies requiring class and caste to fall hand-in-hand with religion and civilisation. 

The sun rises over the Punjab

But while the place of origin for these nomads may be lost to history, their temperament is not. As early as the 8th century the civilisational stubbornness of Jats is referenced in scripture.

“Resistant to external influence” is how Islamic writers between the 8th and 13th centuries described them. While making up large portions of the workforce and armies across western south Asia for centuries they had continuously curtailed any attempts to shepherd them into any common culture. Their militant stances and unwillingness to bend even led them to later be mentioned in the memoirs of a famous Ruler of Kabul as “troublesome and problematic”. After all, people who didn’t open themselves up to taxation or bribery didn’t make easy subjects.

A map showing the distribution of modern day Jat people across India and Pakistan, in what was all largely the Punjab region before the British imposed partition in 1947

For their efforts they were classed as outsiders by local governments, the Hindu rulers of the 11th century Punjab designating them “low Shudras” – the lowest caste in Indian society. However a people who were not particularly happy with falling in line in the 11th century were not particularly taken with the idea a couple of centuries later either.

Despite their classification as low caste, the Jats managed to carve out a noble life for themselves in Punjab as farmers, providing food for the local population. By the 16th century, they had miraculously been elevated from low Shudra to low Vaishiyas; or lower middle class. It’s recorded that by this time the Jats owned substantial amounts of land on both sides of the Ravi River, one of the five major tributaries to the Indus River running through the Valley (“Paanj” in Hindi is five, hence Punjab). This acquisition of land meant that some Jats became very prosperous. Even so, this was quite a leap for an ethnic group to make given the rigidity of the caste system, but not all together inconceivable. Given that the Jats were now major suppliers of food to the local Hindu population, it’s unlikely that the Hindus of the area would have wanted to be seen as consuming food created or supplied by their lowest caste. 

Despite this elevation, the Jats are not recorded as recognising themselves in the Hindu caste system and for all intents and purposes carried on as outsiders, finding their role in the surrounding society as suppliers rather than participants. They were still largely treated as outsiders, with bureaucracy often working against them, allowing land to be annexed and stolen by well connected members of Muslim or Hindu society. This lack of regard for their well-being encouraged the separation of Jats from the surrounding society and helped foster a further resentment for what they saw as corruption and ill will.

This resentment had only got worse with successive invasions of first the Mangols in the late 1300’s and then finally the Mughals from Afghanistan in the early 1500s. A system of heavy agricultural taxation and military campaigns had given the burgeoning Mughal empire the funds necessary to dream of expansion and it looked towards the rich and fertile lands of Punjab.

Babur, Ruler of Kabul and the founder of the Mughal Empire

The first of the Mughals, Babur, was initially invited to invade the northern provinces of India by a prosperous Muslim politician called Daulat Khan Lodi who sought to cement his own legacy in Lahore. At this time Babur was already a powerful figure, the aforementioned Ruler of Kabul and a direct descendant of both the great Timur and Genghis Khan and had desired a seat in “Hindustan” for some time. However, this invitation by the aspirational Daulat Khan was to be the stepping stone toward the realisation of Babur’s dream rather than Daulat Khan and the start of a 300 year long occupation of the Punjab by the Mughals, as well as a founding pillar for a brand new religion.

The story of this new religion really begins with the return of a young man, Nanak, to his village in Lahore province along the River Ravi. Born about 40 miles from the city of Lahore to a revenue collecting father in a Punjabi farming community, he had seen his fellow countrymen toil in the fields just to suffer the taxation of provincial pen-pushers. A short stint working for his fathers boss, a certain Daulat Khan (although at this time yet to have offered his infamous invitation), as a grain agent had given him further insight into the inner workings of the system he had been born into. Namely a system of corruption and bribery. So, at the age of 27 he took himself away from his village of Talwandi. 

In order to gain some perspective on the life he was living and discern more about the life he wanted to lead, he set off towards the middle east. At this time the region spanning the Mediterranean to the Indus Valley had seen successive successful empires. By western accounts the Timurid empire that was to be found at the time of Nanak’s journey was nothing more than the dregs of Genghis Khan’s Mongol hordes, but in reality it was a culture to which many writers and painters, both European and Asian owe a great deal. From the mid 15th to the early 16th century the great court administrator Nizam al-Din Amir Alishir Nava’i, a “humanist par excellence”, was transforming the empire into one of learning and opulence. So much so that he is recorded as being “instrumental” in the spread of Persian literary humanism. Not just across the empire he helped oversee, but “deep into the heart of the Indian subcontinent”. 

There among the poetic high literature and great minds of the Persian empire of the time Nanak developed ideas that he chose to bring back with him and build on in his home province of Lahore. Somehow he thought, he would aim to create a new society that was free of the corruption and taxes that were found in the surrounding towns and cities of his homeland. By taking back ownership of their minds, he would encourage people to take back control of their land and resources. A sort of South Asian humanism. 

“The vast consequences of the height of Persian literary humanism attained during the Timurids was such that its resonance extended for centuries, well into the Mughal dynasty in India and the Safavid period in Iran”

– Hamid Dabashi, The World of Persian Literary Humanism   

Accounts have been given and books written on the where and when of this young man’s travels, most of them describing four long journeys before his eventual return to his village of birth.

In fact there are thousands of verses of narratives, given the name Janamsakhis, that tell of Sikhism’s founder Guru Nanak, detailing at length four missionary journeys where he spreads the word of God and Sikhism. However many of these have been written in more recent centuries, posthumously and somewhat hagiographically. The writings most likely to give us a true idea of both the early Gurus life and his original reasoning for starting his new community is the Puratan Janamsakhi. In these first writings, understood to be written around the 16th century or just after (around the time Nanak lived), there is a brief mention of a journey to the Persian west. However they largely focus on the future Gurus early manhood and the founding of his first experimental community after his return from this journey.

Having settled back into Talwandi, the young Nanak had started to draw together some of his fellow villagers to discuss the ideas that he had come across and developed on his travels around the old Persian empire. These ideas centered around a sense of moral obligation to both oneself and his or her fellow humans, no doubt influenced by the humanism spreading from the region at the time. In a culture largely composed of religions requiring devotion to deities, these themes of devotion to oneself must have seemed rather refreshing to some. German philosopher and good friend of Sigmund Freud, Immanuel Kant, would later recognise these themes over two hundred years later as the key elements in European Humanism

“a Sikh is … a student who is always eager and passionate to learn how to grow into his full potential as a true and conscious human being”

– Guru Nanak, Kapur 155

The young Nanak had started to convey these themes and ideas through a number of poetic hymns, a number that by his death in 1539 would reach 974 and be built upon by subsequent Gurus to form the backbone of Sikhism. The poetic manner in which he chose to convey these thoughts mirror the literature that was to be found in the Persian empire of the time through which he had just traveled. Many of the poems and stories of Timurid Persia dealt with the human condition and what makes us who we are, much like the hymns Nanak wrote in his time. So much so that it’s almost certain that the future Guru learned a great deal as he traveled around the region west of the Punjab. Many of the hymns he wrote follow an imagery that artfully uses nature and particularly agricultural metaphors to convey their message and meaning. His compositions invoke much passion for the beauty of the natural world found in the Indus Valley. 

With these hymns Nanak began to draw some villagers into his philosophy. Some local Muslims and low caste Hindus could see some truth in his words, recognising the changing world around them and wanting some change from what they started to see as a “tightening noose” of religious society. However Talwandi was soon deemed to not be the best springboard for this new burgeoning community of thinkers. Being a traditional farming community, it was founded by previously high-caste Hindu who had converted to Islam and although the village is unrecognisable today, in those days it most likely had a mosque at its center. The Puratan also mentions a temple there, likely to be Hindu.

 With a clean break from the stifling surrounding cultures in mind and a small following now at his back, it might be time to move further afield. The stories tell of the Guru using his compositions as his guide, settling on a pristine piece of land that is both beautiful and fertile. However in reality, the young Nanak was very careful about where he chose to build his settlement for his new community, later to be named Kartarpur.

His father-in-law worked for a local Jat chieftain who could facilitate the acquisition of land along the fertile River Ravi. Nanak’s own knowledge of the land and soils also made certain that he could choose a place where soil fertility and substantial subsoil water made living off of the land a viable possibility. Furthermore the land he chose was extremely close to a well known pilgrimage route that traversed the Indus Valley. Pilgrims, often travelling hundreds if not thousands of miles in the hope of enlightenment were often open minded people in search of meaning if not a new, better way of life than the one they had left. The location of Kartarpur was a smart placement for someone hoping to turn wondering minds towards a more conscious way of living. 

The area surrounding Kartarpur, along the River Ravi, was also largely inhabited by Jats. Many Jats had looked to the religions of the area to fulfill their search for a socio religious identity, but many more remained stubborn and outcast. The future Gurus views on political corruption cited in some of his compositions, coupled with his way of wording these moral lessons in agricultural terms, began to draw these farming Jats to him. Figures given to us in the Puratan show that of the first congregation at Kartarpur, a large percentage were Jats. Furthermore upon his death, it was the Jat members of the Sikh community that were his most trusted successors. 

Already disenfranchised by the succession of revenue demanding bureaucrats that followed in the wake of the Mangol and now Mughal invasions, the Jats were more than happy to listen to Nanak. Especially when he spoke of the need to repurpose this revenue to their own needs. Afterall, Nanak knew how useless the system was to the community having been surrounded by family members working as revenue collectors and he himself a book keeper for Daulat Khan. Taxes are supposed to be paid by the people so that public works can be undertaken, on a more beneficial and larger scale than the individual could manage with just their own income. However the revenue paid by these farmers of the Punjab rarely came back around and it was an early proposition of the young Nanak to instead hold onto this money, so it could be used within the community. If they were to be separate from the state and ask for nothing from it, what was the need in paying dues to the pen-pushers in Lahore and beyond? 

Many scholars will contest that Guru Nanak believed in the creation of what would become known as the Manji system. This was a method for Sikhs to avoid taxation by the Mughal emperors that was built upon by the fifth Guru Arjan, that led to the latters unfortunate death and martyrdom at the hands of the Mughals. However the understanding of the endemic corruption and anti-establishment sentiments in Guru Nanak’s early compositions, plus the way he organised the first Sikh congregations in Kartarpur and eventually further afield seem to indicate that he did indeed want to create an alternative system for his followers…

Ahmaud Arbery – Thoughts on Another Day in America from TCC

Originally posted March 2020

With the release of a video on tuesday showing the killing of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, US, another statistic is added to the list of unarmed black men killed by armed white men in the United States. In this most recently published case a vigilante ex-cop, Gregory McMichael saw the 25-year-old Ahmaud jogging past their front yard, out for what the young man’s mother would call his “daily jog”. However McMichael saw a young black man running and immediately called for his son, his guns and his pickup truck. McMichael suspected that the running black male must have been linked to a string of burglaries in the suburban neighborhood but whether this was to do with Ahmaud himself as a suspect or just racial stereotyping by McMichaels, it still does not call for the actions that followed. 

The two civilians, Gregory and his son Travis hunted down, and I use the word hunted with all the appreciation of its connotation, the young Ahmaud Arbery with a shotgun and a .357 Magnum Revolver. As a gun-prude Englishman I may not know a lot about guns, but those two are not weapons you take along to question somebody. Even I know the stopping power that those guns have and how they can be used to put a person down. The connotation of this is that the McMichaels thought they’d have to bring that amount of firepower to just speak to a burglary suspect? I think they wanted to do more than that and the video released on tuesday shows what happened. Ahmoud was shot twice at close range with a shotgun by Travis McMichael and a third time by Gregory who was standing in the bed of the truck.  Because of the laws around carrying firearms in Georgia, the claim by McMichael that Ahmaud was a suspected burglar and the claim that Ahmaud had fought back “violently” (after being shot) meant that no action was brought against the McMichaels after the killing. In the eyes of the law, going by the McMichaels’ own account, there was no probable cause for arrest as both carrying deadly weapons and the use of deadly force to protect oneself is legal in the state. 

But just how necessary are these laws in what should be one of the most “civilised” countries on earth. After all, isn’t the role of the United States’ missions to the Middle East And Africa to help countries within these areas become more advanced and “civilised” themselves? The concept of civility is “the act of showing regard for others by being polite”, even in situations where you may think others less noble. If civility is one of the criteria for the advanced stage of cultural development we call civilisation I don’t think the McMichael’s got the memo. The act of rolling up on an unarmed man with two heavy-hitting firearms and this confrontation leaving said man on the pavement dead reeks of the Wild West, not the civil west we live in. But then maybe we live in different wests.

In the latter half of 2019 Michael Drejka, a white male from Clearwater Florida shot unarmed Markeis McGlockton, a black man. McGlockton was out shopping with his girlfriend and young family when they were confronted by Drejka over a parking space. Drejka, who has a  self-confessed “pet peeve” about illegal parking, had noticed McGlockton’s car in a disable spot and was looking for an accompanying sticker. An argument began as McGlockton’s girlfriend asked him what he thought he was doing, which resulted in Markeis getting involved. Witnesses and the prosecutor claim that Drejka purposefully hurled abuse at McGlockton’s girlfriend in an attempt to provoke McGlockton which unfortunately worked. Markeis McGlockton is said to have pushed Drejka, at which point Drejka drew out his concealed firearm and fired it fatally at Markeis McGlockton who died there outside the convenience store, in front of his five-year-old son and while his youngest children were still in the car. 

Drejka told police that he “always” carried his gun and had been doing so for 25 years thanks to his concealed weapons permit. The son of a cop, Drejka regularly checked cars parked in disabled spaces for stickers and reported them, sometimes taking pictures. If he thought this was a dangerous line of work to pursue, maybe he should have left it to the people in a civilised society whose job it is to penalise illegal parkers, unless confrontation was what he was after. Sure he could have been scared and intimidated by a man out shopping with his family after aggressively hurling abuse at his girlfriend, but the overarching theme of many of these “white man kills unarmed black male” does seem to be that the victim is killed after what should have been a passive altercation turns violent. In many cases the prosecution has argued, like in McGlocktons case, that the armed white man had provoked the victims into violence with either physical or often verbal abuse, resulting in a reaction and allowing by some state law the use of deadly force.

This is essentially the 18th century practice of dueling but with one party not knowing the rules. If America really wants to stay in those halcyon days of guns at dawn and public showdowns to the sound of creaking saloon doors maybe they should make it official. The laws of the old west, before silicon valley and Palm Beach, were there to keep order and allow people (although mostly white men) to keep their own law and order in a sparsely populated area. The threat of a shooting or the penalty of death was enough to keep most people from doing anything too illegal in the absence of any wide-reaching law enforcement. But after a while, civilisation rolled in from the east and brought an all-encompassing law and order to the west and the rest of the US. So now why, when the federal cops and the government can keep a watchful eye on everything that happens within their borders and without, do american citizens feel the need to be so uncivilised and take the law into their own hands? But more importantly, why is this allowed by law? Is America truly allowed to call-out Saudi Arabia for its state-sanctioned death penalties when frontier justice and vigilante human-hunters are apparently a-ok in the land of the free?

If the United States is serious about being a “civilised nation”  they need to show that they understand the concept of civility. The shooting of an unarmed man, whatever race, for whatever reason, is morally and should be lawfully wrong. The fact that when extrapolated to black men, these killings are often sidelined or the killers let off is abhorrent. America has one of the “best” legal systems in the world, it tells us. Then let it be put to use instead of acting as a bureaucratic maze for cases to get lost in. The role and undeniability of law in the country needs to be emphasised so that citizens no longer feel the need to do it themselves. Only this way can we work out if people that feel the need to be their own judge, jury and executioner do so out of a propensity for justice or for violence. 

White Collar Terrorism

“Earth in the mouth, and in the soul, and in all./ Earth which I eat, Earth which shall in the end swallow me whole.”

– Miguel Hernández, 1942

Up until even the very recent past, extremist regimes looking to suppress ideas and quell dissent could do so with relative impunity. If they had the manpower and enough shovels.

The recent exhumations of civil war era mass graves in Spain have unearthed what many knew already. That the scope of killings carried out to suppress ideas of freedom by a regime as recent as Francisco Franco’s – who died in power in 1975 – went far beyond what many were willing to accept could be possible in the modern era. After all, the “Pact of Forgetting”, the political agreement of amnesty towards perpetrators of these atrocities after Franco’s passing, ensured that nothing could come from any outpouring of consternation but split families and “unwelcome” tension. Often under no more than inches of soil and dirt, by the sides of roads and walls, the twisted faces of the silenced Spanish had screamed silently for their recognition. Bullets and the thoughts in their heads had put them there and earth covered them. But today to bury an idea one must be much quieter than a gunshot in the night. The suppression of ideas today is carried out by a silent killer, one that is arguably even more powerful and damaging as it echoes through time.

Money flows through all nations and all fingers but in some it pools more than others. For the past ten years a stagnant pool of money has been forming in Europe, with its source in the US. Under its waters ideas about women’s rights, sex education and individuality are being drowned by the steady stream coming from conservative christian “charities” like the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), American Center for Law & Order and multiple Evangelical Associations. Claiming to promote freedom of speech and human rights they in fact stifle both. Recent decisions made by parliaments in Poland to ban abortion, the rescinding of LGBT rights in the Czech Republic and Romania and even decisions made in Spain and Italy can be traced back through donations to key politicians, funding of institutions or the setting up of “grassroots” movements by a number of these so-called charities.  

This has been happening for some time in both Latin America and Africa, with the banning of contraceptives and the fermenting of horrific homophobia also being linked to resources sourced and funded by similar conservative christian charities. The Family, the 2019 documentary mini-series that has aired on Netflix, does a deep dive into one such organisation called The Fellowship Foundation which is closely tied to the American presidency and has been since the late 1950’s. It details how the combination of religious fervour and political favour is used to promote conservative christian and neoliberal capitalist interests in foreign. Many of these countries are developing or third-world, in need of investment. These quasi-religious charities are able to offer this helping hand, but often ask for some conservative policies to be enacted in return. Many of those in these institutions, such as The Fellowship Foundation, see themselves as doing good by promoting the interests of a religion they deem to be wholesome. But in reality capitalist kingpins, along with the televangelicals use this religious radicalism to promote polarisation and fear to form a dark if not exploitable storm. 

By effectively buying these countries and their politicians they promote the subjugation and silence of those deigning to espouse non-capitalist or non-christian views. This white collar terrorism is at first less noticable that the methods of past regimes, with bullet holes being much easier to discern that holes in the fabric of society. However the ripples these shots make have lasting ripples that may not be seen in full force for some years.

Money may always have bought silence, but with the funds available to well positioned institutions in today’s world – and more importantly individuals – these small pockets of silence are in danger of becoming a carpet. When one of the world’s richest and most influential men, Steve Bannon, is opening a self-proclaimed “gladiator” school to train would-be world leaders in the methods of populism to “conserve the Judaeo-Christian west”, or Mike Zuckerberg is threatening the UK government, the cards and interests of the worlds capitalists are firmly on the table.

A bought global news media that also perpetuates the permutations of these perversely populist and capitalist agendas helps shovel the earth over these voices further and at a time when town squares are no-go zones all together, who is left to cry out.